Monday, June 27, 2022

Anti-innovative effects of Apple's Orwellian prohibition of alternative browser engines finally being discussed and investigated

Today I wish to draw some additional attention to long-time web browser developer Alex Russell's new post, Apple Is Not Defending Browser Engine Choice. On other recent occasions I've mentioned the UK Competition & Market Authority's market investigation into mobile browsers and cloud gaming. The fact that Apple allows only one browser engine on iOS--even Chrome for iOS is not really Chrome, but merely Safari in disguise, as it must be based on Apple's WebKit engine--is a serious problem, especially because Apple argues in the App Store context that developers should simply make web apps, while doing everything to ensure that those web apps won't be a practical alternative to native apps. It's like Apple--the tyrant--telling developers: "heads I win, tails you lose."

The argument with which Apple apologists seek to defend the Webkit engine monopoly is that Chrome and other browsers based on the Chromium engine would otherwise take over and turn the web into a browser monoculture. Apple would have plenty of resources--and resource allocation is at the heart of Alex Russell's concerns--to compete on the merits. It's just more profitable and more comfortable to abuse a typical aftermarket monopoly.

The suggestion that a browser monoculture on iOS is needed to prevent a browser monoculture on the Internet as a whole is a "fight fire with fire" argument. Apple is the gatekeeper standing between the technology industry at large and one billion users--by some describes as the world's richest billion people, which is not completely off base, though fortunately even some rich people prefer Android.

Far be it from me to deny that the concentration of power in Google's hands with its search engine, ad network, Android, and Chrome raises concerns. However, apart from Android, where Google leverages the Power of Default, Chrome actually managed to compete on the merits. OK, some antitrust enforcement accelerated its adoption--but that's precisely what is needed against Apple's single-browser-engine policy now.

The 2020 United States et al. v. Google antitrust complaint mentions Chrome, but only in contexts where Google leverages its power over Chrome to maintain its search engine monopoly. Only on Android does Google leverage its market power in another field to strengthen Chrome.

If you let Apple and Google compete on the merits, such as on Windows where neither Apple nor Google benefits from the Power of Default or simply disallows competition, Google will win. Safari never made it big on Windows, while Chrome did.

Alex Russell is right that "Apple has foundationally imperilled the web ecosystem by destroying the utility of a diverse population of browsers and engines." And CNET's Stephen Shankland interestingly noted that web developers are asking lots of questions about where Apple stands on new web standards, i.e., whether and how WebKit will implement them:

In closing, just like Alex Russell, let me, too, amplify Stuart Langridge's call to "help the [UK] CMA help the Web" by providing input to the CMA (deadline: July 22).

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